Adult Attitudes About and Perceptions of the Nature of Musical Ability

December 8, 2009 / By: Holly V. Harris

The intent of this study was to determine adults’ attitudes toward their own musical ability and the beliefs that inform those opinions.  The sub-problems of this thesis focused on the influence of prior musical experiences on adults’ musical ability, adults’ definitions of musical ability, adults’ perceptions of their own musical ability, the influence of other people and their opinions on adults’ musical ability, and current musical behaviors in which the adults take part.

The research took place among adults who reside or work in the Becker, Minnesota school district.  The subjects were parents of third, fourth and fifth grade students at Becker Intermediate, as well as employees of the Becker school district.  Adults were contacted through letter and e-mail, and invited to participate in the study.  The data were collected using an anonymous online survey through Survey Monkey. The survey contained primarily Likert-scale statements, with one open-ended question asking for additional comments through a written response.

Determining why people believe themselves to be musically able or unable is not an easy task, but instead one that involves multiple influences.  The results of this investigation revealed that although many of the adults participate in informal musical activities on a daily basis, many of them are hesitant to consider themselves musically able.  Many of the adults surveyed were surrounded by music beginning at an early age and later were involved in musical activities as students.  These early experiences greatly affected later beliefs about musical ability, both positive and negative.  Although the adults declared musical ability to be an innate talent as well as a skill that can be learned and developed, they were quick to point out the different between technical skill and what they identified as extraordinary musical ability.